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Main Street Conference participants ‘inspired’ by Salisbury’s downtown development

SALISBURY — About 55 miles from Salisbury is Cherryville, but for the next couple of days, representatives of the town’s Main Street Program are learning all they can about Salisbury to build upon ideas from the N.C. Main Street Conference.

Rhonda Stephens said attending the conference has given her renewed inspiration to return to Cherryville, especially on the prospect of upper-story residential development. The Main Street program members gushed Tuesday as Donna Beringer, their chairwoman, talked about using tax credits to start a brewery like Salisbury’s New Sarum.

Courtney Beam, who toured the city’s theaters, spoke about the Meroney and Lee Street turning nothing into something to spark a passionate arts community.

On Tuesday afternoon, people attending the conference traveled throughout downtown for tours of the historic district and sculptures. Many even got one of the best views of downtown Salisbury — from the rooftop of Pottery 101, 101 S. Main St.

Sam Dixon, a Main Street America board member who lives in Edenton, said during the opening remarks Tuesday that Main Street, at its core, is about the people — the volunteers, business owners and residents.

“It takes a village to make a Main Street,” Dixon said.

Britt Weaver, developer of the Empire Hotel, showed off his redevelopment project during a sold-out tour of the hotel that will become apartments.

“Most cities have something like the Empire,” Weaver said.

He gave pointers on how to work toward a public-private partnership similar to what he and the city have with a 10-year lease that allows the city to use the ground level for retail space and gives the developer the ability to underwrite the project through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Weaver said redeveloping a historic property takes patience and a willingness to give.

People on the tour questioned the length of project, the cost and the process of getting funds through HUD.

Another sold-out tour was of upper-story residential development. People toured Michael and Diane Young’s apartment in the O.O. Rufty Building, Ted and Cheryl Goins’ home above Pottery 101 and the Bernhardt Building. Conference-goers asked about the price of rent to support the cost of redevelopment and parking.

Ten to 15 years ago, people were wondering if upper-floor apartments were practical, Michael Young said. Now, people are concerned about the quality of the apartments and rental rates. He compared an apartment at O.O Rufty to oceanfront property, an investment to get the best of the area.

Young said he was asked about demographics of tenants of the O.O. Rufty building, which is now at 100 percent capacity. Tenants include a college student, professionals and empty nesters, he said. 

Having a full apartment building, Young said, shows the desire of spaces like his. Young said he is not worried about the Empire Hotel reaching occupancy once its redevelopment is complete.

Bunnie McIntosh, a Burnsville council member, learned from a morning session called “Designing for Downtown” about designing facades for older buildings and redesigning downtown residential spaces. McIntosh said seeing the communities in Salisbury working together is a great example to take back to Burnsville. She said the conference had been informative and wonderfully organized so far.

Salisbury Mayor Pro Tem David Post spoke during the conference’s opening remarks, reminiscing about when he moved to Salisbury and downtown was not appealing for people to live or visit. Now, downtown is a magnet for the city, he said.

Barbara Sorel, a conference volunteer and interim director of the Historic Salisbury Foundation, stood at the intersection of Main and Innes streets helping direct conference-goers and answer questions about Salisbury.

Volunteering to help at the N.C. Main Street Conference was an easy choice for Sorel, who stays active in the community and has friends on the Downtown Salisbury Inc. board.

“I really like to promote our city,” Sorel said. “We have a lot to offer.”

Scott Satterfield, Goldsboro’s development manager, said he was impressed with the arts district and how collective and coherent it is in Salisbury. Satterfield said he had started to think of things to integrate into his downtown. He also liked the idea of bringing a brewery to Goldsboro to showcasing a local product. He raved about The Smoke Pit, where he ate lunch, saying he plans to revisit Salisbury for another meal at the barbecue restaurant.  

The N.C. Main Street Conference continues through noon Thursday. Gov. Roy Cooper’s office announced Tuesday that he will address the conference at 9:15 a.m. today at the F&M Trolley Barn.

For more information, visit ncmainstreetconference.com.

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